Visual Art & The Gospel of Christ: Some conversations

What if all Art is about a grander idea than that of the artist or the viewer?

What if defining a work as Art is not the most important discussion?

What if all Art is humanity telling the story of the Gospel?

Let us look for the four pillars of the Gospel in these four works found in the Brooks Museum of Art. We may not want to embrace them as art, but let us approach with an open heart for why humans are drawn to create.

As we consider these four pieces of art do we see one of these ideas:

We create because we are created? We live in a lost and broken world? We desire a redeemer to find us and fix us? We long for Home, the Ultimate place of Belonging?

Question#1: Why do human beings make things? Why do we house Art in museums?

The first pillar of the Gospel is from Genesis 1:26-28, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness…” In this work by Nancy Graves we easily see our human compulsion to create. This highly skilled and imaginative sculpture speaks about the world, geography and artifacts.

Close up at Brooks Museum

Nancy Graves, Metaphore and Melanomy, 1995, 120x144x84in, Bronze Sculpture

Question#2: Why do we care about suffering? Why do we make and collect art about our brokenness?

These works by Purvis Young and Eddy Mumma remind us of our separation from God in a lost and broken world. The faces of the figures with the eyes and mouths gaping seem to tell about pain, almost despair. Artists of all people in the world understand how to narrate our longing to be free of pain. John 16:32-33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Question#3: Why do we make religious works? Why is the idea of worship important to humanity?

This next piece is by Marisol Escobar. The Family is a complex work which includes the figures of Joseph, Mary and the Baby Jesus surrounded by neon lights. There is a sense of Glory about the figures through the glowing material. A mirror in the abdomen of the Virgin Mary is a reminder that He was born for us. 1John 5:5-6 “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”

Question #4: Why do we replicate and express what we see in nature? Why does nature often move us to worship?

Sam Gilliam (American, 1933 – 2022), Azure, 1977, acrylic with collage on canvas, 90 x 120 in., Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Gift of Art Today 80.2

This artwork envelops us in brown textural acrylic paint. Gilliam calls the art, Azure for a reason. My friend, Mary shared her insight into this work. “This gritty painting is like a canopy of fall leaves as you lie upon the ground below looking up into the branches. In the bottom center hope glimmers with the azure blue and bright green light of the sun peeking through. It reminds me of how we all long for Home, a better place among the decay of this world.” Mary’s words reveal a biblical understanding from Romans 8:20-21 “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

So, here we have some examples of possible conversations. Whether we know and love God or not, our creations cannot help but speak of His design for the world. Even in our most rebellious times we know that we are made for something different than the brokenness we experience here.

Rather than responding to art with, “This isn’t art!”, maybe we can accept the art to be such then become more open to fruitful discussions of meaning and connection.

Seize the Art and the day for the Gospel.

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Thank you Brooks Museum of Art

Marisol Escobar (American (b. Paris), 1930 – 2016), The Family, 1969, mixed media: wood, plastic, neon, glass, 88 x 56 x 65 in., Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Commissioned for Brooks Memorial Art Gallery through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and matching funds from the Memphis Arts Council, Brooks Fine Arts Foundation and Brooks Art Gallery League 69.5a-d

Sam Gilliam (American, 1933 – 2022), Azure, 1977, acrylic with collage on canvas, 90 x 120 in., Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Gift of Art Today 80.2

Purvis Young (American, 1943 – 2010), Untitled, ca. 1985-1995, acrylic on wood, 41 x 19 3/8 in., Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Gift of Wynwood Partners, Ltd. 2006.30.3

Nancy Graves (American, 1940 – 1995), Metaphore and Melanomy, 1995, bronze, 120 x 144 x 84 in., Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Gift of Martha and Robert Fogelman; 100 Gifts for 100 Years, 1916- 2016 2016.7a-e

Eddy Mumma (American, 1908 – 1986), Untitled, ca. 1978-1986, acrylic on canvas board, 16 × 12 in., Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Gift of Josh Feldstein; 100 Gifts for 100 Years, 1916-2016 2016.11.4

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